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Following successful completion of the two area exams, students must complete an original research project on an advanced topic.

The advisory committee for the dissertation will consist of three members of the graduate faculty, one of whom will assume the primary advisory role.

The dissertation should normally be between 50,000 and 75,000 words in length. The regulations and procedures at the university in which the student is registered will govern both the dissertation and the examination formats. See the academic calendar for dissertation regulations and procedures.

Dissertation Proposal

As soon as possible, and normally within eight weeks of the oral exam, the student submits to the committee a final version of the dissertation proposal, consisting of eight to twelve double-spaced pages, and a reading list/works cited in MLA form (current edition), accompanied by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies form. The form and dissertation proposal are copied to the Graduate Studies Committee before being forwarded to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

By the end of the winter term of the student’s third year, the student must have submitted a working chapter of the dissertation to the committee (minimum: 25 pages) that demonstrates the feasibility of the project, as well as the student’s ability to realize it. Failure to achieve this milestone will result in a rating of unsatisfactory on the annual progress report; two such consecutive ratings will result in a recommendation to withdraw from the program.


In the words of Elizabeth A. Wentz in How to Design, Write and Present a Successful Dissertation Proposal, the dissertation proposal "describes your plan for creating new knowledge" (3). The dissertation proposal must include sufficient substance and scope to demonstrate your ability to make a contribution to knowledge, while also outlining a research plan that is feasible for you to complete. It is a provisional document with the purpose of demonstrating your capacity to undertake the proposed research. The proposal should be concise, focused and specific.

Core Components

These are suggested guidelines, open to modification as needed. Candidates should consult with their supervisors.

Cover Page

A cover page contains the title of the proposal, your name, your committee members' names, and the submission date.


An introduction to the topic that summarizes research objectives and anticipated outcomes or aims. Consider: 

  • What more is there to be learned about this topic?
  • How are you expanding on or advancing existing scholarship?
  • What are the broader implications of your research, and what are your proposed contributions?

Review Existing Scholarship

A review of existing scholarship that synthesizes prevailing ideas about the topic and presents your responses to these ideas. Consider: 

  • How has this topic been addressed by others?
  • How will I address it differently?
  • How is my work in conversation with this field of study?
  • How does my work complement, expand, and/or transform the field?
  • Where is the gap in knowledge?

Describe Your Method

This detailed description of your method entails identifying the scope of your research (e.g., historical, national, genres, movements), the primary works that supply the focus of your research (which works and why) and the theoretical approach you will use to read these works. Consider: 

  • How will you make your argument?
  • What are your assumptions?
  • How you will do this research?
  • What theoretical approaches and/or interpretative tools will you use?
  • What primary texts will you study and why?
  • What are the historical, literary, political, social, and cultural contexts that inform the texts that you study?
  • What libraries or archives will you consult? Why?

Research Questions or Subtopics

Include specific research questions or subtopics to be addressed and their relationship to the dissertation's overarching argument. Provide chapter summaries. Consider:

  • How will you group primary texts and in what order will you examine them? Why?
  • How will you sequence material to support the overarching argument?
  • Which primary works will each chapter focus on, and how will each chapter support the argument?

Discussion of Significance and Implications

A discussion of the broader significance and implications of the proposed dissertation within the field. Consider:

  • Why do we need to know more about this topic?
  • How might we benefit from the kinds of advancements to the topic you propose to make or from the research questions and aims you wish to pursue?

Annotated Timeline

An annotated timeline for writing and research, noting milestones toward completion. Name relevant primary texts or bodies of texts and databases you intend to use and identify their locations (e.g. libraries, universities, archives, locally, in Canada, abroad).

Works Cited

A works cited listing all sources cited in the proposal and, if relevant to the project, a filmography.